To facilitate virtual and hybrid events during the pandemic, convention centers around the world have begun to build out full-fledged virtual event studios — but planners still need to consider the skills necessary to use them.
The studios provide the setup needed to broadcast high-quality and well-produced virtual events, and many also include a small capacity for in-person attendees. However, while these studios provide a valuable service to eventprofs during a major transitionary period in the industry, they're not a silver bullet.
According to a recent EventMB survey, more than half of planners (58.1 percent) are uncomfortable with virtual event tech. Combine that with the skills required to orchestrate broadcasts that compare with what a home audience is used to, and it becomes clear that event planners will need support.
Leveraging these new virtual and hybrid event studios in order to execute professional virtual events is therefore all about choosing and working with the right partners.
The Dangers of DIY Virtual Event Production
Deciding to use a virtual event studio for an online or hybrid event is certainly a step in the right direction, but the result may be awkward if professionals aren't brought in to support the production.
For most planners, virtual events already present a challenge, and attempting to independently manage their production in unfamiliar, high-tech studios adds more logistical challenges and a much steeper learning curve.
Moreover, poorly-executed events can have far-reaching negative consequences. Since high production value is one of the most important features for engaging virtual attendees, failure to achieve this will lead to exacerbated Zoom fatigue and disengaged attendees.
Per EventMB’s most recent industry-wide survey, 66 percent of event professionals said that increasing competition is a substantial challenge. In a virtual event market with a low barrier to entry, that production value is a key factor in setting an event apart. Conversely, neglecting to invest in production can lead to negative brand exposure and may impact attendee return rates for future events.
Neglecting to invest in your virtual event production can therefore undermine the ongoing success of your event brand, especially if this will be your audience's first impression of your virtual experience. With that in mind, here's how to take the capabilities offered by these studios to the next level.
How to Make the Most of Virtual Studios
Brace Yourself for a Learning Curve
Surviving 2020 has entailed a steep learning curve for many eventprofs. Back in March, those who were able to remain competitive had to learn virtual event tech and strategies for virtual engagement. Moving forward into 2021, planners will need to take this a step further and develop new skills in organizing TV-level broadcasts.
That's not to say that you'll need to learn how to produce the entire event yourself, but it means becoming familiar and comfortable enough in the space that you're able to have intelligent conversations with venues, suppliers, and partners about what's possible and realistic given your budget.
Look for Venues That Offer Production Support
While many studios do not come complete with in-house production or design teams, some do. If this is something you need, and you don't have your own in-house AV or a trusted partner that you'll be working with, it's a good idea to shop around for venues that can offer this support. Make this need clear from the get-go by including it in your RFP to let potential venues know that getting your business depends on giving you the tools you need to make the most of it.
Find the Right AV Partners
If you decide on a venue that can't provide tech support, look to AV companies that have also been pivoting their services to focus more on virtual events, or to specialized production companies that can lend a hand.
Running a TV-level production to power a virtual experience is very different from producing a live event, which is where your newly-acquired knowledge will come in handy to vet suppliers. It's also a good idea to have someone on the team who is familiar with at least the basic principles of cybersecurity and how to safeguard your event.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you're organizing a hybrid event, you may need even more hands on deck. During our Hybrid Revolution Summit virtual event, Wallace L. Johnson, Managing Director of WLJ Consulting, mentioned that when working on hybrid events, it will be key for planners to work with separate producers for the live and virtual environments.
Prepare to Outsource Missing Skill Sets
You may be used to dealing with AV providers and onsite WiFi suppliers, but when you're competing with the online content that your audience has been bingeing throughout the pandemic, you'll need other skills you probably never considered in order to bring your narrative A-game.
For example, in pivoting the annual MozCon event to virtual, Christina Mautz, CMO of Moz, enlisted her AV partner to help her team manage the art direction and digital design of her virtual event. Other necessary skills may include storyboarding, production, pacing, and direction. If you don't have experience in these areas, you should also consider finding partners who can provide these skills.
In addition, a virtual host or MC can further boost engagement for digital events, and if you're planning a hybrid event, you should also consider having separate hosts for the in-person and virtual audiences. The virtual MC will have to cope with driving the energy and engagement without the benefit of any reciprocation or recognition from a live audience.
Integrate Your Virtual Platform
Whether you're organizing a fully virtual or hybrid event, your virtual event platform can be an important partner in elevating your event production and making use of a studio.
For example, not all platforms can embed a live stream from a studio or production company, which should eliminate them as options. For those that do have this capability, keep in mind that you're designing a distinct virtual experience, and consider how the incoming stream is handled by the platform.
Does it facilitate interaction and engagement around the stream? Can it beam the stream in directly, or does it have to go through another platform like Streamyard, which may affect latency?
The virtual event tech provider you're working with may also offer production support, so it's worth asking if they can help you use the studio, or if they can recommend a partner. Either way, you need to be sure that the platform you decide to go with will play nice with the production studio.
Virtual event venues are yet another example of the industry adapting to a new normal and will be a huge asset to planners looking to plan both virtual and hybrid events in the next few months — and potentially well beyond that.
By understanding where they need support and partnering with suppliers such as AV teams that bring much-needed expertise to the table, planners will be better positioned to create highly produced and engaging virtual experiences.